You are currently viewing Food Chaining As A Tool To Nourish
how to food chain

Food Chaining As A Tool To Nourish

Sharing is caring!

What Is Food Chaining?

Food chaining takes food dislikes to acceptable by combining foods already tolerated with new food items.  This is done by manipulating tastes, textures, or colors of the food across many food exposures. The idea is to take a persons current food likes and expand food preferences to increase total food intake. 

Food chaining creates links between food profiles.  The practice  uses sensory measures such as similar textures, colors, smells, or  flavors. 

Food chaining works by combining one food a person enjoys with one fear food or food of limited tolerance.  This will ultimately help to increase the total nutrition consumed in the diet.

Who Can Use Food Chaining?

Food chaining can be beneficial for anyone!  There are a certain groups of people that may benefit the most from food chaining.People that may benefit most from a food chan include: 

Food chaining can also be beneficial for those with eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, or orthorexia. 

Food Chain Example Of Chicken Strips To Fish Sticks

Why Should We Food Chain To Increase Acceptance?

For some, the fear of food is so great that it might feel like a plate of spiders is being placed in front of them at every meal.

Extreme food aversions may lead to: 

  • Weight loss and malnourishment
  • Anxiety
  • Feelings of shame/guilt
  • Clinical signs. of malnourishment (constipation, diarrhea, hair loss, abnormal lab values). 

For those with very limited food intake, it is critical we increase their total nutrition intake as soon as possible.Food chaining can be a way to increase food tolerance while minimizing anxiety that comes along with trying new foods. 

Steps of Food Chaining For Picky Eaters

The first thing you need to do when you examine foods that you will food chain is to look at the food the picky eater already tolerates. You can map out foods a person tolerates using a food hierarchy chart (list tolerance on a scale 1-100).  The most accepted foods should go on the lower numbers. The most fear foods should go on the higher numbers.

Another way to assess food tolerances is by lumping them into easy categories. A good example of this is using traffic light colors to demonstrate which foods are tolerated.

  • red = (off limits foods)
  • yellow = (sometimes foods)
  • green = (always acceptable foods)

You should use either a food hierarchy chart OR category lumping to assign food tolerance. Using both could get confusing.

When you are able to categorize tolerated foods you will often notice patterns. For example, a person may be more drawn too crunchy, smooth or cold foods.  

You may also notice the person leans towards foods of a certain color. Finding these similarities among already tolerated foods can help us to design our food chain to include new foods  that are similar enough to already tolerated foods.  

Looking for flavor/taste/texture similarities in foods is also sometimes known as flavor mapping.  

Time needed: 5 days.

How To Use Food Chaining For Picky Eaters

  1. Create A food Hierarchy Chart

    List out foods in terms of tolerance on a scale of 1-100. The safest foods should go near the bottom of the list. Pick a safe food to create a food chain for. Look for patterns of what a person likes in the food. Textures? Colors? We will use the example of baked chicken to fish sticks here. chicken on a plate with red sauce

  2. Change One Food Property, Keep the Rest The same!

    For example if we are keeping flavor and changing texture we need to progress up to the change in texture. This could take several tries over days or weeks. Here we have changed the cooking method of the chicken (fried versus baked)

  3. Change Another Food Property

    Here we have changed the shape and the method of cooking for the chicken. As we move towards tolerating fish sticks, the fish sticks will alter in both the shape and texture. Therefore it’s important we put both in the food chain exposures. popcorn chicken in white pan

  4. Change Out Other Meal Properties Such As Sauces

    . You may wish to alter sauces or seasonings in your food chain. This is because as a whole, the new food will have different properties. It may be preferred with an accepted, yet different sauce than the original one used with the baked chicken. chicken strips with new sauce

  5. Introduce Only One New Food At A Time. Repeat!

    Even if someone has very limited intake, initiating many foods at once will likely result in none of them being tolerated. Choose only one new food to work on at a time. It can take up to 15 tries for a new food to be tolerated by food chaining for picky eaters.

Using Flavor Masking In Food Chaining

An excellent way to include a new food item in food chaining is by flavor masking. 

For example certain seasonings or sauces may be well tolerated.  You can utilize these to mask the flavor and textural profile of the new food as it is being introduced. 

We may use honey mustard dressing as a way to introduce chicken or fish.  Ideally, you should reduce the use of the flavor mask as the food becomes more accepted. 

Food Chaining Examples

apples to oatmeal food chain

Ice Cream To Strawberries Chain Steps

  1. Favorite ice cream 
  2. Ice cream with strawberry sauce
  3. Ice cream with blended strawberries and chunks
  4. Strawberry jam or applesauce
  5. Strawberry pieces. 

French Fries To Sugar Snap Peas Chain Steps

  1.  French fries 
  2. Potato Chips
  3. Veggies Sticks or Sphered Potato Chips
  4. Salted/Seasoned Sautéed or Roasted Snap Peas OR Harvest Snap snacks. 
  5. Fresh sugar snap peas

Apples To Oatmeal Chain Steps

  1. apple
  2. Baked Apple
  3. Baked apple Drizzled with syrup or sweetener
  4. Oatmeal with apple chunks or applesauce
  5. Oatmeal with apple, raisins, or other sweetener. 

Oatmeal to Store Bought Muffin Chain Steps

  1. Oatmeal with fruit or sweetener
  2. Oat Muffins with fruit
  3. Store bought muffin

Chicken Strips To Fish Sticks Chain Steps

  1. Preferred brand of chicken strips
  2. Varied chicken strip brands (frozen, Mcdonalds, kfc)
  3. Baked vs fried chicken
  4. Fish sticks in favorite prepared style.  
Example of food chaining grid detailing french fries to sugar snap peas

Tips For Trying New Food With Food Chaining

  • Don’t give up! Sometimes it takes between 10-15 times of being exposed to foods for it to be tolerated.
  • Alter the method. If the food chain isn’t tolerated try changing the cooking method, color, or seasoning of the new food. 
  • Only introduce one new food at a time.  Remember, new foods are likely to produce an extreme amount of anxiety. 
  • Make it fun! Themed meals such as sports themed or a travel destinations may increase the likely hood of trying the food. 

Have You Tried Food Chaining? How Did It Go?

I’ve used food chaining with clients suffering from sensory issues around food, children, and those with eating disorders. 

I’ve also used food chaining with my own child, nieces and nephews!  Food chaining is an excellent way to help someone feel safe in exploring foods. 

Do you have any tips/tricks when it comes to food chaining?  Drop them in the comments below. 

Shena Jaramillo. Registered Dietitian

Hi I'm Shena. I'm an eating disorders dietitian in Washington state. I hold bachelors degrees nutrition & dietetics, cultural anthropology & psychology. I believe in honoring your hunger, having your cake whenever you want it, and that critically analyzing diet culture can change the world!

Leave a Reply